Offense impressions, year one
I attended the DC event you did over the summer where you talked about what to expect from a Harbaugh offense. Now that there is a season's worth of data, do you have any plans to revisit and do a compare and contrast on that? I'm curious what new wrinkles can be attributed to Fisch, opponent specific stuff, or just flat out integrating plays he likes, as a way of understanding how he evolves his approach.
That's a conversation for next year. It will be interesting to see how Michigan's philosophy changes going forward; right now I the only things I have to compare it to are NFL offenses in a vastly different competitive environment and a five-year-old Stanford team with a largely different braintrust.
Meanwhile it'll probably take another year before the Death Star is even vaguely operational. You could see the outlines of the things Harbaugh wants to do, but it's always much easier to see what the shape of a thing is when it works as intended. Michigan's ground game didn't do that enough to get a feel for the shape of he whole thing.
One thing that did stand out was the week-to-week diversity of formations and plays. Michigan had a T-formation package last seen in college football decades ago; they had a week where they ran a handful of zone read; they fiddled with some diamond formations. While the wrinkles didn't always add up to much in year one, they do speak to Harbaugh's philosophy: he wants to constantly show you things that make you uncomfortable and get you to bust a run fit.
It's mostly the same for the offensive line. They get a call and they execute the call. Those calls are almost always standard power, inside zone, or outside zone. The only things that Michigan did that they didn't do much under previous staffs were quick trap pulls.
Harbaugh puts a bunch of window dressing around it and uses his blocky/catchy types to spring the surprises. Going forward I am guessing you are going to see a high priority put on RB/TE/FB types who are highly intelligent, because the bulk of the week-to-week changes are on them. I think that's a major reason Michigan's PWO class is heavy on high-academic blocky/catchy types—there might be an Owen Marecic lurking in there.
[After THE JUMP: extensive takes on the envelope pushing and overall grades for Hoke]
Two quick mailbag questions for you during this recruiting season.
1 - How would you describe Harbaugh's recruiting philosophy?
I think Hoke's was pretty easy to understand. If you got an offer from Hoke, it was a commit-able offer. If you wanted to take visits after accepting an offer, then you were no longer considered committed and they would consider you just a recruit competing for a spot in the class.
Rodriguez was somewhat similar to Harbaugh i think, but there are some subtle differences. Rodriguez would fire off a ton of offers and sort out how "official" they were as they learned more about grades, etc. I think he had less consideration for class distribution by position and that may have gotten him in trouble, but he also chased some of the top players regardless of fit.
Harbaugh seems to be something along the lines of this:
-- An offer is conditional upon certain requirements (curious your opinion on those)
-- If you commit, that doesn't mean that either you or Michigan is married to another. Visits are still allowed and Michigan may still explore options for your spot.
-- Until you sign the LOI or enroll, consider things a soft commitment.
Harbaugh sends out "offers." Hoke did not do that. If you had an offer from Michigan under Hoke you could commit to it. Harbaugh does the thing most people do these days and fires out offers in name only. To date he's been less than circumspect when it comes to allowing kids to commit to those offers (though sometimes that's not his call; some kids announce commitments to uncommitable offers).
A commitment is still mostly a commitment. Of the guys who left Michigan's class only two, Swenson and Weaver, were instances where Michigan flat out didn't want a guy because of their perception of his talent level. It's been more or less directly stated by guys like Steve Wiltfong that other players who decommitted had academic benchmarks they didn't reach or were 100% the player's choice. And Swenson was a unique situation since he was a highly-rated commit who was offered before his sophomore year by Brady Hoke. Michigan evidently made it clear they wanted to see him in action to confirm but didn't make it CLEAR, if you know what I mean. That's an error Harbaugh admitted to and hopefully won't be as much of a thing going forward.
I expect that Michigan will continue to have a few speculative commits who may or may not end up in the class for reasons academic and otherwise. Their offers will continue to keep pace with the state of the art in mangling the English langauge for marketing purposes. Some guys will take those offers. Michigan will make things clear to them, and some of them will end up in the class while others either use their status as a springboard, as Weaver did, or end up where they were going to end up anyway.
[After the JUMP: a graph, 2017 DL worries, 2016 LB worries, and HOW INSANE WAS THIS COACHING HIRE]
you, go away
Given the general distaste we Michigan fans have had with the way in which SEC coaches like Les Miles and others oversign and then cut in order to make scholarship numbers work, how can we not be similarly enraged when it looks like we are now engaging in a similar practice? Is the answer HARBAUGH?
Michigan is not yet at the point where they have to tell a freshman who's been on campus for weeks to GTFO. Should they reach that point, or one anywhere near it, then I'll be grousing as well.
They aren't near it. To date they have lost some commits before Signing Day. If those are Michigan's choice that is a recruiting misdemeanor compared to the felony of getting a guy's LOI and putting yourself in a position where someone's gotta go, deserved or not. And in some cases they are not Michigan's choice—reports after Vic Viramontes decommitted were that Michigan was blindsided and disappointed. (The MGoSlack chat was certainly mournful.)
I do think Michigan put themselves in a bad spot by offering a few guys before it was clear whether they had the academics and/or talent to play at Michigan. In the former case, those guys should know the score without anyone having to walk their way through it—if you're not taking officials you have to know you're a long way away.
In the latter case, once that disappointing senior film comes in you can either try to make it work even if you don't believe the player is Michigan-caliber anymore or you can consciously uncouple. I can see how moving on before Signing Day instead of two years into a career nowhere near the field could be better for everyone. Michigan told Matt Falcon they didn't think he could play but had a medical scholarship. That sucked for Falcon but better to find out before you've spent eligibility. The error has been made either way.
Meanwhile, Michigan has limited control of the narrative that gets put out there because they cannot say anything about ongoing recruitments. Reports that Michigan isn't contacting certain players much are probably frustrating to the staff because the reason for that is that they've already told people the deal, as they did with Falcon, but "Michigan commit" looks good on a resume when you're looking for another spot to land. Recruiting sites waited months for Dele Harding to say something about his recruitment and finally just took him off commit lists. That doesn't mean Harding didn't know his status. If you read between the lines you know who isn't likely to be in the class. If you know, they know.
Meanwhile I know that they have told certain players not to commit whereupon those players commit anyway; Michigan shrugs its shoulders at crootin' and keeps going. Carr used to go out of his way to make things clear when such things happened to him (LB [something] Justice and some OL out of Tennessee who I can't remember spring to mind); Harbaugh seems to (accurately) regard the whole edifice as a farce and plays his part with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.
We'll see what happens on and after Signing Day. I don't think we'll see any more untoward than playing time transfers and guys not being offered fifth years.
[After the JUMP: where to put guys, where to spend scholarships, and the best hockey forwards of the past 15 years.]
Let's add another position to Peppers's bio?
Is it absurd to think Jabrill could fill in at LB next year? He's listed about 30 pounds lighter than Bolden, yes, but he's faster, tackles better, and recognizes plays faster. Is the idea just a total non-starter because of the snaps he's expected to take on offense?
Just curious as to your thoughts.
In a sense he already is filling in at linebacker. Michigan ran more nickel snaps last year than they ever had before largely because Peppers gave them that luxury. Part of his triple threat is defending the run. So: kind of.
But if you're asking about moving Peppers into the box as one of two inside linebackers, that is indeed absurd. Peppers is good at all things that physics allows him to be good at. This does not include getting off blocks from 300 pound offensive linemen. Then add the increased wear and tear because of those blocks—when he ends up in coverage he does not get hit unless MSU is running their Obvious Offensive Pass Interference play—and you're wearing Peppers down in a role he's a dubious fit for.
If Peppers has X snaps in him I'm sure we can agree that whatever is left over after his duties as a nickelback are complete should be dedicated to getting the ball in his hands.
Yes they have, no he's not.
Has anyone asked Harbaugh if Glasgow will return for the bowl game? Any other injured players that we'll get back?
Harbaugh all but ruled Glasgow out of the bowl game. He said Rudock had not thrown since the OSU game but should be no problem to return, and there isn't really anyone else that's hurt. Ojemudia, I guess, but we already know he's laid up for the season.
There was chatter that Bryan Mone might return. Harabaugh reinforced that with some comments in pre-OSU press conferences, but I've heard that was never anywhere near coming to fruition. And at this point is the redshirt worth burning for a slightly increased chance of beating Florida? No. It was dubious for OSU and not even plausible for a non-BCS bowl game. Brian Cole is also on track for a medical redshirt and playing safety in any case, where Michigan isn't pressed for depth.
Actually, the opposite effect.
With Bronco Mendenhall taking the Head coaching job at Virginia, does this mean Taysom Hill is a lock to come to Michigan next year?
I'd say that departure makes him less likely to end up at Michigan. Hill was transferring, that is a given. It might have been Michigan; it might not. But he was going somewhere (or retiring).
Now UVA might look like an enticing landing spot. Virginia has Matt Johns returning for his senior year, Johns threw 17 interceptions and rushed for 86 yards in 2014 and is far from a lock. Hill knows Harbaugh relatively well, but he really knows Mendenhall.
Where Hill ends up probably won't be known until after spring practice, when scholarships open up and coaches have a grip on what they've got at the QB spot. Michigan wasn't actually that interested in Jake Rudock until about halfway through spring, when their thinking suddenly changed. If Hill ends up at Michigan it is something of a referendum on John O'Korn. If Michigan passes it's also a referendum, a much better one for our purposes.
I always answer emails that accidentally call me "brain"
I think we can all agree that Durkin was in a tough spot heading into the OSU game. It's not too hard to imagine a world in which Michigan had Glasgow, Mone, and even a functioning Ondre Pipkins at NT on Saturday. Instead, Durkin had Hurst, Charlton, Wormley, Henry, Strobel, Pallante, and maybe an injured Godin to fill out the entire line.
An mgoposter made the compelling argument that playing Hurst, Charlton, Wormley, and Henry for nearly all of the game - with a few reps possibly going to Strobel, Pallante, and the injured Godin - was untenable. The main four were inevitably going to be worn down, the argument goes, or Strobel, Pallante, and Godin were going play significant snaps but be a very poor match for OSU's line. The 3-3-5 put the LBs into positions they weren't accustomed to, but you can at least argue that was better than having linemen who were too tired to be effective.
In light of the fact that the 3-3-5 made some sense (or maybe you disagree), can we say that the failure to use run blitzes and the failure to incorporate the safeties more into stopping the run were the staff's biggest failings against OSU? Relying on Ross, Morgan, and Bolden to do things they aren't comfortable with rather than relying on exhausted or third-string linemen is one thing, but failing to load the box (with whatever combination of players) is another. The latter seems far more questionable given that OSU was a far better running team this season than they were a passing team.
While I agree that Michigan was in a tough spot with depth no matter what they did, my complaint about the 3-3-5 is only about 30% "it didn't work" and 70% "it was a very bad attempt to respond."
If you notice something about the PSU, MSU, and OSU defenses it's that they're all basically the same: pattern-matching cover 4, mostly, with two high safeties. PSU plays them actually high; MSU plays them at eight yards. This allows you to apply a relevant defender to the playside. Michigan kept playing a very deep high safety through the entire game.
To some extent that's fine in the first half. You got a couple stops, you're going up against an OSU offense that has been clunky much of the year, you are caught off guard by some new (old) things that they are doing. I'm not ticked off about the early pooch punt because I thought the same thing everyone else did: that Michigan and OSU were about to get locked into a defensive struggle.
Once OSU crunches you in the face on the touchdown drive that made it 14-3 late you need to have something in your back pocket to transition to once it becomes obvious that your base package cannot hold up. Durkin simply did not. If the 3-3-5 was his response it was a total failure. It was so bad they couldn't run it.
There is a reason quarters is a very popular defense around the country right now, and it is Ohio State's offense. Leaving one high against it is asking for trouble, and trouble was received. If you want to save DL snaps you can do that by getting super-aggressive.
I'm okay losing this game because Barrett hits a bunch of passes like he did against Clark and Lewis. That's something I'm willing to let OSU try in lieu of grinding Michigan for 350 rushing yards. To watch Durkin sit on the sideline with his 20-yard-deep safety as Michigan got ground up for the second time in three games was a major confidence shaker. That he left is… fine by me.
This kind of thing is why I don't want an NFL DC coming in here, by the way. I want a guy who came up from the bottom and has had to fight spread offenses for decades. Tossing some dude out there who hasn't had to scheme against a QB run since 1985 gives me the heebie-jeebies.
What about next year?
My dad and I traditionally watch every game together with my brother and uncle joining us some/most of the time. The defensive game plan on Saturday bugs me more and more with each passing day. Going back to Harbaugh's battles with Oregon at Stanford, is there anything there that might indicate how The Game will go in the future? My dad has insisted on a talent gap, but I'm certain that the combination of injuries and trying to implement a terrible/unfamiliar scheme had to do with UM's down fall on Saturday. With Durkin out the door, do you see Michigan's seemingly increased depth at line next year giving them an advantage? And how long do we have to wait before we can run the ball the way Harbaugh wants?
Thanks ahead of time, love the blog and the work you guys put into it,
Jason from GR
Harbaugh never did get a grip on Oregon's offense while he was at Stanford. In his four years, the Ducks put up 55, 35, 42, and 52. Harbaugh did win the third game of that series, but it wasn't good. It really couldn't have been good until year four, when the Stanford defense caught up to the Luck offense. But even then that Vic Fangio-led D got bombed by the Ducks.
Many teams got bombed by the Ducks that year, except for one: Auburn. Because Auburn lives and dies by the same stuff Oregon does and they cancelled each other out. I say this all the time, but the corollary to the "the spread makes your defense soft" stuff often promulgated by people who can't divide very well is "the spread makes your defense resilient to the spread."
This is obviously not a hard and fast rule, or even a rule at all—see every Big 12 game since 2002. But I do wonder about how prepared Michigan was to face running QBs this year.
Anyway: there is an obvious talent gap that OSU did its best to hide for the duration of the year during their post-Herman malaise. Check the first round of the upcoming NFL draft for ample evidence thereof.
Michigan should be a lot closer to parity next year, as OSU loses big chunks of their team and Michigan brings just about everyone back. I'm not sure the run game will explode, but four returning starters in the same system should equate to progress, especially if they get improved production from the running back spot. Michigan should feel like an elite team if they get good QB play. And given Harbaugh's track record…
As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods,
They kill us for their sport.
What's going on with Rudock?
Brian - you made some comments today on the podcast about how Jake Rudock's inability to hit the deep ball has finally bitten us in the collective asses, which I agree. You also mentioned that when you watched him last year, while he wasn't dead-on every time, he was able to hit the deep pass from time to time - something he clearly can't do this year.
My question is this - to me, this does not seem like a 'new coach, new system' type of a problem. Those issues seem to be the ones where he fails to even attempt a throw to a wide open receiver (which he does all the time - but I give him more of a pass for that as the "new system / new coach" issue). But when he throws the deep pass, only inaccurately - that suggests to me an issue with maybe his mechanics or something else that has thrown off his accuracy past 15 yards. Any thoughts why that might be? If anything, I would expect his deep accuracy to improve with a guy like Harbaugh teaching him the fundamentals. Again, I separate this from other issues such as "stares down Butt" or "ignores screamingly open routes every once in awhile."
Yeah, you got me. Some of the Rudock problems are issues that make sense given what we saw from him at Iowa. Not throwing at sort of covered Jake Butt on second and goal from the 18 is a Rudock problem I can understand. That is his reputation. Rudock not finding receivers is a problem I can understand. He's in a new system.
Rudock underthrowing Amara Darboh by about 20 yards is inexplicable. Any quarterback is going to be off on some long throws; to miss as often and as badly as Rudock has is not something that I saw last year. That's not just homerdom. Preseason, PFF put out an article titled "Michigan can win with QB Jake Rudock" that noted he was 12th in downfield (20+ yards in the air) accuracy by their system last year. In the Maryland game, BTN had a similar stat:
The disparity is certainly bigger now.
I don't know if he's hurt or his mechanics are messed up or what, but for whatever reason his ability to hit downfield passes has collapsed. Why? I dunno. Is there something different in what he's doing here?
Since one is in the middle of the field and one on the sideline. Those are throws of about the same length. Am I crazy or does the 2015 video look like a guy who's loading up to get it as far as he can while 2014 sees Rudock make a throw that's comfortably within his range? I dunno.
Something is wrong. A problematic injury, possibly one that caused the weird Iowa QB depth chart thing, is a possible explanation. The other explanation is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Ref hot take
Having read Seth’s analysis of the officiating (and you really should make him do that weekly) my question is why – why did this happen to us? If you ascribe these “errors” to incompetence, shouldn’t there be an equal number of blown calls going in our favor? Incompetent referees should be just as likely to screw things up for team A as team B and over the course of a 60 minute game shouldn’t it balance relatively out if they are simply incompetent?
The obvious alternative to incompetence is the officials had an agenda and carried it out. Granted, we still should’ve won the game but with so many critical calls being made against Michigan it made the game much closer than it needed to be and allowed the last play to finally tip the scale in MSU’s favor. And if it’s an agenda – why does it exist?
What say you? Incompetence, agenda or something else?
If you flip a coin a million times there are going to be stretches in there where you get a long series of heads or tails. Michigan just ate an game that was virtually all tails. There's no need for a further explanation. Over the past decade or so it's been definitively proven that the replay officials are not good enough at their job, but that's all. The Big Ten tends to use retired referees in the booth, with evidently disastrous results.
If there was any sort of "plan" here Michigan wouldn't have gotten a free touchdown when their receiver barely scraped the pylon a few years back in this very game. Remember that? That call was overturned from the correct call to free TD. Replay officials should no longer be people with rotary phones. Actual officials are probably the best we've got. That sucks; not much to do about it.
[After THE JUMP: HSPs future, Whoville analogy, we should have done this or that]